A high-five or fist-bump won’t do for N.C. State’s track relay team.
No, there has to be more to it than that, Nyheim Hines sees to it. Each member of the Wolfpack 4x100 relay team has their own choreographed handshake with Hines.
The Wolfpack’s youthful sprinters trade friendly verbal jabs with each, too, but more than anything else, they have speed; lots of speed.
Their win in the ACC championship in Atlanta on May 14 was one of those “Where’d everybody go?” kind of races, shades of Katie Ledecky in Rio or Secretariat at the Belmont.
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Their winning time, 39.14 seconds, qualified the Wolfpack sprinters for the NCAA East regionals in Lexington, Ky., and they will run on Saturday. Another performance like the one from the ACCs in the regionals and N.C. State will be off to the NCAA championships next month in Oregon.
Three freshmen – Cravont Charleston, Dylan Peebles and Junpai Dowdy – make up the relay team with Hines, a standout from the Wolfpack football team.
You’d think maybe the track crew might be hesitant to welcome a football interloper like Hines but that’s not the case.
“As long as he does his job, he’s fine,” Peebles said of Hines, who runs the first leg of the relay. “He does put us in the lead every single time.”
Charleston, who gets the baton from Hines for the second leg, concurs but for a different reason.
“He’s straight,” Charleston said. “He’s got fire handshakes, so he’s cool.”
Ah, the handshakes or “Dancing with Nyheim” might be more accurate.
“I’m trying to establish camaraderie amongst the team, you feel me?” Hines said. “Gotta bring us together.”
Apparently it’s working. The group is already comfortable giving Hines a hard time about his height (officially listed on the football roster as 5-9) and his weight (197 pounds).
“They call me fat,” said Hines, who noticeably has more upper-body muscle than rest of the group.
There is something more to the group than jokes and natural talent.
“I think it really helps that they’re so close,” first-year sprint coach Allen Johnson said. “They know each other, they trust each other and I think it shows.”
They’re a close group despite limited experience. The ACC meet was only their third race as a team. But Hines and Peebles are both from Raleigh and grew up together and ran for the Carolina Elite track club. Their family history goes back further than that. Their fathers, who coached their club team, met in the third grade at Fuller Elementary in Raleigh.
Charleston and Dowdy are both from the Charlotte area. The four have formed a quick bond at N.C. State. They’ve had to.
N.C. State’s 4x100 relay team finished seventh in the NCAA championships last year. Three of the four sprinters were coming back to improve on that All-American mark this year.
Jonathan Addison, a senior last year, was the only expected departure and Johnson figured he would be able to plug Charleston, the 4A state high school champion last year in the 100 for Mallard Creek, into Addison’s spot.
Then junior Wayne Patterson suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the indoor season and junior Quashawn Cunningham went down with a serious hip injury.
“We were like, ‘Uh oh,’ ” Hines said.
Johnson was ready to chalk up the outdoor season as a lost cause.
“Oh, well, we’ll back in 2018 and we’ll be good,’ ” Johnson said was his initial thought.
Charleston didn’t miss a beat from high school. Peebles stepped in ahead of schedule; so did Dowdy, a 400 runner by trade.
“Even though they’re young, they’re obviously very talented,” Hines said,
The ACC race offered plenty of proof of that. Charleston won the 100 meters with a time of 10.07 seconds and Hines was third (10.34 seconds). Charleston won the 200 meters at 20.76 seconds and Peebles was second (20.87 seconds).
They didn’t just win the relay, they dominated. Peebles, whose father, Danny, was an All-American sprinter at N.C. State in the 1980s, crossed the finish line a full second ahead of sprinters from Florida State and Virginia Tech. When you watch the replay, there’s no one in the frame with Peebles. That’s not supposed to happen in such a short distance against a strong field.
“It has been a pretty good year so far,” Charleston said.
Not bad. And here’s a scary thought. The baton exchange between Dowdy, who runs the third leg, and Peebles can be improved. The group has already shaved off five-tenths of a second – an eternity in a sprint – off its time.
“They’ll get faster,” Johnson said. “I’m confident in that.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
NCAA East regional
N.C. State’s 4x100 relay team is one of 24 competing in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday night for a spot in the NCAA championships next month in Oregon. The top three teams in each heat will qualify for the NCAAs plus the next three fastest times from the three heats.
N.C. State is in the third heat with N.C. Central, Florida, Florida State, Connecticut, Penn State, Boston University and South Carolina. The first heat is scheduled to start at 6:15 p.m. The meet is being streamed online on the WatchESPN app and the SEC Network Plus.